This brand new company join several other Norwich based theatre start-ups in creating remarkably good new theatre to take up the well travelled road to Edinburgh and the many openings offered by the Fringe Festival, a clearing house of contemporary talent. Grace is directed by Sebastian Garbacz and written by Geronimo Bennington-Poulter.
This slightly wicked new work takes us into the isolated home of devout and rather naive young married couple Nigel (Jonny Davison) and Sarah (Ella Dorman Gajic) who are just settling down for dinner when there is a knock on the door. Sarah rushes to answer the door, but Nigel feels more wary and less charitable about the stranger at the door. Sarah prevails and a young man with a small bag wearing nothing more than a pair of pants flops into their home and promptly passes out. Muddied and bruised he is washed down by Sarah, and eventually revives to confirm that he is a passing priest, Father Samuels (David McCabe), who has plainly had a rather torrid time in his most recent ministrations.
The young couple take to him and make him more than welcome, and confide that in spite of five years marriage they remain childless and seek his guidance. When he realises the depth of their naivety he decides to give each of them the blessing of some very physical priestly guidance in the tricky matters of procreation. The proceedings are helped along with generous measures of parsnip wine, the only guilty pleasure that Sarah and Nigel have previously managed to get their lips around – until the serendipitous arrival of God’s guidance in the rather earthly form of Father Samuels.
The script is very well written and the three actors bring their characters to life with great enthusiasm and believability. Presented in the round they have no hiding place but show no hesitation or prudishness about some very intimate moments which had one or two audience members hyperventilating from early in the show.
A lifetime ago theatre shows were effectively censored by The Lord Chamberlain’s office. This one would have seen him spluttering out his Ovaltine and rushing for the red pen for most of this script, dealing as it does with a heady mixture of physical sexuality, trust in the priesthood and opportunism, but in these more enlightened times it is a fresh and engaging show with no cynicism beyond the odd expression or two on the priests face as he does the necessary to help this young couple learn the skills of lovemaking. There are some wonderfully quirky details, as for example when Sarah tenderly washes the mud off the priests naked torso but uses the rough end of a Brillo pad to do it. That lad is made of sterner stuff than I am.
In an age when TV and radio drama has become either completely anodyne or gratuitously violent it is good to see small companies venturing into territory once explored by remarkable dramatists like the late Dennis Potter. This enjoyable show pushes against the boundaries of a subject that until very recently would have been deemed acceptable but is at the forefront of many news stories today. The absurdity of the celibate priest being the first point of reference for a young couple learning how to make love is curious enough, but here the writer has added a little surreal circumstance to create an hilarious play which deserves to fill the Edinburgh venues that it is heading for.
© Julian Swainson 2018
Grace by Bloody Livid Theatre Company is at theSpace on the Mile, Edinburgh EH1 1TH from 13th August. Tickets from edfringe.com